By Bijaya Biswal
I dream of the ages without the Internet. When hangouts with friends were not confined to Google, shopping was a real-time experience that required us to take a day off from work and spend quality time with our family members, dating was not reduced to swiping left, right and centre and meant approaching a person at a bar or at the workplace after lending them the privilege of our attention for a long time. Relationships were not damaged because of a misleading, suspicious message on our partner’s phone and meeting each other was not the last resort. It was a given that the most significant manifestation of love, a larger chunk of the commitment which is now measured over how many of the calls were returned or if the “last seen” coincides with the promised bed-time or if all the social media check-ins were coherent with the knowledge of each other’s whereabouts.
A harsh reality
I have two thousand friends on Facebook but I spend most of my evenings alone at a coffee shop reading a book. I have no one to talk about or to and as I stroll outside my apartment as I wonder why no one ever calls. Road-trips and visits home for festivals are losing frequency so even a pastry that I have at the office canteen or a simple trial room selfie or a good hair day manages to make it to my Instagram profile. I glare at it for hours on my worst days and think, fifteen thousand followers but none by my side.
A thing of the past
The art of meeting has drowned while we have been trying to sail over the turbulence of a capitalised adulthood, constantly fighting against the devastating winds of unbearably long work-hours. Our childhood friendships have been reduced to notifications on their new jobs, wedding rituals and first trips abroad but I have no recollection of when our group of friends last sat down to talk for a long time about how life changed after school. I met my boyfriend online and while I console myself with the fact that a long distance relationship is worthwhile because compatibility is a priority over the convenience of proximity, I wonder if I had ever cared to meet someone around without already disqualifying them over an unlikeable Facebook bio or a conflicting shared post. While I complain of loneliness every day, watch the movies of Chantal Akerman and read books on depression, smoke cigarettes and meet men only if it’s been too long since I last had sex, I have realised that the lack of friends is only a by-product of setting stringent standards of socialisation. Similarities in political opinions or taste of literature between a prospective friend and me have suddenly started mattering so much that I have embraced self-inflicted isolation rather than choosing to build a friendship devoid of filters, even for the sake of company.
Living in solace
I am incompetent where short talk is concerned but I wear it with pride as if conversations always have to be visceral and the nicest thing close to it would be silence. However, short talk is also important. Those little exchanges of words with a co-passenger in a flight or a stranger in a doctor’s waiting room does not give me enough time to open the channels of my heart but quickly pulls me back to the comfort zone with human beings that I have been trying to evade since the day I learnt to appreciate the company of dogs. Last November, I met a lady on a train who introduced herself as a bank employee and went on to talk about how she is pulling off 70 hour-workweeks owing to the sudden turmoil of demonetisation. A few weeks ago, while I was taking an Uber to the airport in Bengaluru, a kind greeting by the driver led us to a long conversation about our families, cities and religious views. When I asked him out of general curiosity how large his family was and how big his house was, he replied, “Five members. Must be a little larger than this car”. We were travelling in a Tata Indica.
To short talk, or not?
Short talks bridge the lacunae in human understanding. They let us cover the cracks of intentional avoidance, burst open our closeted personalities and challenge our cowardice. They let us stitch back the loosened seams of a society ridden with economic and social diversity such that there are people drinking sparkling champagne in five-star hotels just beside roads where many families sleep each night. Audis with the heads of Labradors popping out of their windows often splash mud over the faces of children who were born in the gutters and raised in the streets. It is easy for a corrupt politician with a criminal history to win the trust of millions but not so for a dedicated charity organisation working in war-zones or flooded villages. There is a world beyond the social circles of selective like-minded people. There is more to communication than a trade of emoticons.
An ode to a better tomorrow
The constant urge to escape life, the insatiable craving for vacations and the incurable feeling of alienation must have a permanent solution. It is building a home wherever you have taken shelter, rather than dwelling in the delusion that everything is makeshift and something more perfect remains even after this chapter. In this dual life that we are leading online and offline, our virtual compensations are falling short of our real-life demands. The Internet may provide us with appreciation, acknowledgement and acceptance but these can never be synonyms for love, for the holding of hands while watching a sunset and for the sharing of a large pizza over mindless gossiping. The Internet can only help us bring our lives online but can never fix it. What can fix it is homemade food, tight hugs and forehead kisses, picnics and drunk dancing with friends.
Featured Image Credits: VisualHunt
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